An early exit out of practice

When a life-threatening illness forced me to sell my practice, I was devastated—both emotionally and financially. I then realized just how important financial planning is.
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Dec 01, 2004


Dr. Larry Peetz
Chickenpox is a childhood disease, right? That's what I thought until my physician told me I had chickenpox—at age 53. I almost died of complications associated with the disease. What followed led me to change the focus of my life and my career.

Like most veterinarians, I believed I'd work until I decided to sell my practice and live the good life into a ripe old age. I hadn't considered that I might not be able to practice medicine.

Sure, I had disability income protection insurance but only because someone said it was a good idea. Besides, I had attended numerous practice management seminars; read all the journals and management books; and had consulted with my insurance agent, my accountant, and my banker. I was prepared to face unexpected events, right? Wrong.

Weathering the illness On Oct. 20, 1998, I awoke feeling lousy. But it was my father's 80th birthday, and I wasn't about to miss the celebration. By noon, I was back home. I went to work for the next three days because I rarely called in sick. When I finally went to my doctor, he made the diagnosis of varicella-zoster virus, or chickenpox. He said I'd be very sick for a couple of weeks and advised me to go home, keep still, and let him know how I was doing in a few days.


Ensuring that you’re insured
The next two weeks were awful. For adults, chickenpox is a very serious disease. I was in bed with a fever of 102.5 to 104 degrees and a heart rate of 140 to 160 beats per minute. I couldn't eat. I lost 20 pounds and became very weak—so weak that I could only stand for a few minutes, and I couldn't concentrate. What's more, I was a solo practitioner, obviously unable to work and with no contingency plan. Luckily, I found a relief doctor through the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association newsletter. But we had to cut back the times the clinic was open and refer emergencies to a local clinic.

Then just when I should have been returning to work, I began to develop secondary complications. My joints began to swell. I lost vision in my left eye and developed symptoms of heart problems associated with a vascular blockage. Later, my doctor discovered that I had developed a post-viral, immune-mediated vasculitis.

I then realized I would be out for an extended period, and the first relief veterinarian was only filling in for a few days, so I hired another temporary veterinarian to keep things running. It was difficult to find someone to fill in because my practice was open from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and I took my own emergencies; however, I found a veterinarian willing to work temporarily. Fortunately, my wife was the office manager, and I had excellent staff members and exceptional clients who were devoted to their pets, to our practice, and to our standard of care. For that reason the practice was able to sustain itself for several months as we searched for the right temporary veterinarian to replace me in the practice.

Meanwhile, I was hospitalized for cardiac catheterization and had a stint placed in a coronary artery on Jan. 13, 1999. By spring, I was certain I wouldn't return to practice. Much to our dismay, my wife and I knew we had to sell.